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Jul 16, 2013 10:06 AM EDT

Explosive Fire Destroys Four Unfinished Apartment Buildings Near WSU

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Dashcam Captures Fireball Over New Jersey

Around 200 Washington State University students will have to make alternative housing arrangements within five weeks to the start of the fall term after a huge fire on Sunday morning damaged four apartment buildings under construction in Pullman.

The massive fire, considered 'suspicious' by the officials, burnt down 88 units or half of the eight unfinished buildings, at the Grove apartment complex on the north end of the town. The Grove was set to provide beds for 584 residents in its eight buildings.

Students, who have already signed the leases for the units and made deposits for apartments in the Grove complex, have been affected the most. Connor Reathaford, a WSU sophomore, said that he is unsure of his $500 first month's rent and $250 community fee will be returned. 

The 100-foot-high flames were reported around 3:15 a.m., Sunday and the firemen took two hours to extinguish the outbreak. Mike Heston, Pullman Fire Chief, said that no injuries have been reported as no one was living in the buildings at the time of the fire.

He also said that there were several construction vehicles at the site with full diesel fuel and gasoline, which helped the fire spread, resulting in explosions in the nearby surroundings.

The university authorities claim that there was no heat source that could have started the fire and they also believe that the devastating fire is not linked to the string of unsolved arsons on the campus in May 2012.

"At this time, this fire obviously looks suspicious, and it's under investigation," said Heston.

Rich Dragoo, a Pullman Fire Prevention Officer and the lead investigator said that sniffer dogs from the Spokane Valley Fire Department will be arriving today to determine the real cause of this tragic incident.

 "I don't think we're going to have people pitching tents, but there is going to be pressure on housing," said Eileen Macoll, president of the Whitman County Landlord-Tenant Association. "This is going to put probably 200 young people in a scramble for housing. I think the shock is still probably just setting in, and as so many young people travel during the summer, they may not even be aware of their situation as yet. I certainly feel for them."

Campus Crest Communities, the Charlotte, N.C.-based owner of the Grove, in collaboration with WSU will be helping all the affected students to provide alternative housing accommodations.

Terry Boston, assistant vice president for student affairs and enrollment said that alternative housing would also include allocating some space in the university's resident halls. 

 "We're not going to be in a situation where a student is going to be without housing."

According to the building permits, the value of the finished buildings is estimated to be close to $13 million.

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